We’ve got to be honest with you guys: Blunt Talk is a very polarizing show. You’re either going to love it or hate it and there’s not much we can do or say to change your mind one way or another. But Starz’s new comedy—from the ‘wait-a-second-they’re-working-together?’ team of Jonathan Ames and Seth MacFarlane (Bored to Death and Family Guy, respectively)—is working very deliberately with its characters.
These folks,led by none other than World’s Most Charming Human, Sir Patrick Stewart, are about as authentically human as it gets. Bundled up in their own seemingly deviant natures, they exist as erratically as one might expect those aware of their own duality and hypocrisy of living. And the show relishes that in-between, mining it for endless comedy.
The absurdist scenarios and responses are what makes everyone on the show so alive and thrilling to watch. So we sat down with three of the show’s actors during the Television Critics Association press tour—Dolly Wells, Timm Sharp, and Jacki Weaver—to talk about the empathy and frankness that make these characters so exciting to watch unravel all while putting on a damned good news show.
Note: There are minor spoilers for the first four episodes.
Nerdist: So let’s just say it: this show is crazy.
Timm Sharp: It’s so weird you say that.
Dolly Wells: Seems to be the running theme.
Nerdist: But it’s a good crazy, and what I love about the crazy, for lack of a better term, is that it’s very humanizing.
DW: I agree. (a pause) Imagine if you just kept asking us questions and we just kept going, “yup, yeah. Uh huh.”
TS: “I agree.”
Nerdist: It would make this all very short. [laughs]
DW: But you’re right, that is the best combination, actually, that it is crazy or wild or surprising but it’s really human because you could otherwise get really fed up.
TS: If there was no context or humanity it would just be absurd.
DW: Absurd is great but I think it would be not good if it wasn’t anchored. It’s often quite fun to play the supporting part in a comedy show because you can be the sorta weird, crazy one. Whereas if the central one is always sorta [makes a roaring noise] you’d think, “I can’t watch this, I would never be in the same room with that character, I can’t deal with it.”
TS: But I think we’re the grounding ones. I mean every character has its moment of grounded reality.
DW: I think we’ve all got aspects of it. There are aspects of all of the characters that are very well-grounded so that you all care about it all; whether its Sir Patrick who is the thing that everyone revolves around—and there’s all this crazy shit, but he really cares about the show, about the world, and the message he’s trying to give out. And that’s the nicest thing about spending time with anyone you care about: seeing their turmoil. People who’ve got it all sorted are just assholes.
Nerdist: Although it could be said that someone like Rosalie actually does have it all figured out, at least for her.
DW: Rosalie brings real heart and depth. But she’s got edge—she’s got love but her character wouldn’t want you to think that. She’s not going to let you know that; she’s tough and she wants this show to run smoothly and properly and she needs everyone to do their job. She’s the mother of all mothers but she’s tough.
Jacki Weaver: She’s an Emmy Award-winning current affairs producer; she’s a tough boss lady but she’s got a tender heart and a soft side; she’s happily married but with extramarital adventures. She’s very strong and Patrick Stewart’s character [Walter Blunt] depends on her tremendously both emotionally, psychologically, and professionally. The show’s kind of risqué.
Nerdist: You must get the scripts and have some interesting reactions to the antics on the page.
JW: It’s great being able to curse freely because it’s a paid channel—to talk the way people really do talk. I’m fairly unshockable and it’s not just because I’m a mature person, it’s just because I always was unshockable, I think. And if anyone’s known to be shocking it’s Seth [McFarlane, the series’ co-producer].
Nerdist: Did you ever worry about how everything that’s happening in the scripts would translate to TV?
JW: Oh god no—I think a good story’s a good story however you tell it. I mean I do get offended at some things like sexism, racism, and bullying—they offend me greatly. But I think to tell a good story about people and show their dark underside and foibles is instructive and entertaining. Nothing better than a good story and terrific characters—especially with people like Jonathan Ames in charge.
Nerdist: And it’s interesting to see these characters in all their deviance, for lack of a better term, and how they still manage to put on this incredible show—probably not in spite of but because of it.
TS: I think my character feels like, without him the show would go off the rails.
DW: But don’t you also feel like he thinks at any moment, “Oh my god I’m going to get caught and be fired?”
TS: Oh yeah, well it’s a balance because I think it’s a constant battle of “I’m helping!” “Wait am I?”
DW: I think [our characters are] quite similar in that way, with how they feel at work. I think I feel the same, like we’re here for a reason, we can make this work—
TS: We’re competent.
DW: But they’re still waiting for, at any second, someone to say, “You know we’ve found someone who’s got more A-Levels” or “a better degree at a university”—
TS: Or “is less obsessed with Walter.”
DW: Or “sleeps with less people she met on Tinder.”
Nerdist: Well Imposter Syndrome is real.
TS: Everyone can relate to that! Everyone feels that way! All the time, I think.
Nerdist: Although I did get a little sad for you, [Timm] when we ventured into your character’s little hoarder cave. It made a lot of sense.
TS: Doesn’t it?
DW: Oh I loved that! I think it’s sexy.
TS: Well it’s playing and humanizing things that people see as freakish. People judge, like, “Oh you’ve got a shoe fetish? Oh you’re a hoarder? Oh weird.” But like, people are people.
DW: You know me and my husband had a friend who was a hoarder and he just died and I found it so sad and interesting and confusing, his hoarding. It’s too boring and small-minded to think “Ew!” But that’s what I love about this show: they’re just aspects, they’re not the punchline. It’s not funny—it’s just life. They treat it with love. Like my character, she’s a little bit lost and when you’re lost, what gives you pleasure in the short term? Sex, gambling—things that are going to give you a thrill. And yet [on the show] she’s not being judged.
TS: But what I love is that they show you—at the end of episode 3, maybe?—cleaning your sheets. And those moments make it real and beautiful.
Nerdist: Well TV’s doing that so well right now.
DW: I think it’s so important and a huge responsibility that writers have, without getting all [hand motions] about it.
TS: And that’s what I love about the [the first episode], like when Walter kisses Gisele [the transgender prostitute]’s head right before the cops—it’s such a sweet moment that could’ve been handled in such a childish manner. But there’s such compassion there.
DW: But also there’s so much explaining without being all, “OK here’s what you need to know.” Even in the moment when she’s getting her breasts out and she essentially goes, “These are my breasts, because of hormones,” you think, “OK, awesome now I know that.” But that’s the power of writing: to instruct, educate, and amuse. And I think Jonathan has really done that. That’s the point—you don’t feel like you’re being lectured or told how to think, because there’s no judgement. You’re being shown different things by this really sweet, cool, intelligent confused guy and I think that’s the charm of the show. To set a world that makes people think more kindly of things.
TS: That’s how Jonathan Ames is as a person, too: there’s no mystery he puts it all out there, and there’s no shame—OK well no, he’s full of shame, but he’ll tell you anyway.
Blunt Talk premieres on Starz Saturday, August 22nd at 9PM. Will you be tuning in? Let us hear it in the comments.
Alicia Lutes is the Associate Editor of The Nerdist. Find her on Twitter if you’re into that particularly mouthy brand of eStalking (@alicialutes).
Image Credit: Starz